My Life as an Alphabet: Exploring Narrative

5. Observing and Experimenting with Authors' Techniques

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To identify techniques authors use to engage the reader
  • To experiment with writing techniques and styles used by authors

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can write in a similar style to a selected author, using a similar voice and tone
  • I can develop characterisation by expanding on the actions, thoughts and words of characters
  • I can use literary devices to develop mood and meaning
  • Copies of My Life as an Alphabet, or an alternative class text
  • Student-selected fiction texts
  • Literary devices list: docx PDF
  • Analysing literary devices template: docx PDF

This stage of the sequence guides students to closely examine the writing style of a particular author and the effect of literary devices. Students identify then experiment with observed literary techniques in their own writing.  

Facilitate a general discussion about the joy of reading. Invite students to nominate the style of literature, book titles and authors they enjoy. Invite reflection on the techniques authors use to make their writing more interesting. 

Explain that they will be closely examining the writing style of an author and will be using some of their techniques in their own writing. Distribute the literary devices list (available in the Materials and texts section) and refer to it as you share and discuss excerpts from a familiar text. Discuss each literary device and invite students to suggest their purpose and impact on the reader. Possible excerpts from My Life as an Alphabet include:


‘Computers bore me … I don’t have a mobile phone because hardly anyone talks to me in real life, so why would anyone ring or text me.’ (p. 8)


‘Jen Marshall is not the sharpest tool in the shed.’ (p. 4)

Dialogue to advance the plot and reveal the characters.

‘You’re weird, aren’t you?’ [Douglas] said.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Certainly.’

‘That’s okay,’ said Douglas. ‘I’m weird too. Maybe it’s a good idea to stick together. We could be friends. Weird friends.’  (p. 24)

Diction, or the author’s purposeful choice of words that help to develop the tone of the text.

‘But when it was all done and dusted, Uncle Brian was Rich Uncle Brian and Dad was broken and broke.’ (p. 28) This sentence uses informal language and gives an example of colloquialism; all done and dusted.  It also uses repetition to develop the idea.

Candice’s somewhat formal speech and vocabulary choices are important contributors to the tone of the text.  For example, when Candice is eagerly organising her mother to phone Douglas’s mother to arrange a visit:

‘You should be aware that she [Douglas’s mum] is his facsimile mother,’ I said. ‘I leave it to you to decide on the correct form of address under these circumstances.’ (p. 47)


The chapter ‘F is for Frances’ provides important information about Candice’s family before Sky’s death, how Candice feels about losing her baby sister and the effect that it is having on her family.

First person narration

Enables the author to present the story from the narrator’s perspective and share their thoughts, feelings and opinions about what is happening. The perspective of the other characters is sometimes absent and inferred.


‘Douglas peered over the edge of the ravine once more and suddenly the afternoon felt chilly. I hugged myself.’ (pp. 62 – 62)


‘Classrooms are battlegrounds.’ (p. 19)


‘Metal ducks ran along three rows. They were battered and dented with experience, but kept on going.’ (p. 30)


‘ … money flowed in like storm water under a bridge.’ (p. 27)

Invite students to discuss the general tone that is being developed by these excerpts. Encourage partner and small group discussions before sharing the ideas as a class. Question prompts include:

  • How might you describe this story; serious, sad, amusing, scary?
  • What information about the characters was revealed or suggested in these extracts?
  • What are some of the emotions you felt as you read these extracts?
  • What visual images came to mind as you read these extracts?

Demonstrate discussing and elaborating on the author’s possible intent and the evocative effect of an extract. For example:

‘Good morning, Miss Phee,’ he said in sepulchral tones [I have reached S in the dictionary]. ‘What can I do for you?’

‘You could smile, Mr Gemmola,’ I replied. ‘It suits you.’

‘My honesty puzzles many people, teachers included’. My Life as an Alphabet, (p. 87)

Consider using a think aloud technique. For example, say to students:

'This extract demonstrates Candice’s continued determination to read the dictionary from beginning to end, and her resultant impressive vocabulary. It also provides an example of her odd behaviour, that she describes here as her honesty. There are several examples throughout the text where Candice is honest, you could say brutally honest, rather than being ‘polite’.  I think this extract uses dialogue to demonstrate how Candice’s interactions with other people can be outside social norms, but overall, it has a humorous tone.'

Ask students to re-read parts of ‘My Life as an Alphabet’ or another suitable text and identify examples of literary devices. Invite the students to form small working groups and to develop an explanation of the author’s possible intent and their emotional reaction to selected excerpts. 

Support students to use the literary devices effectively. Provide a range of short writing tasks that encourage students to apply a particular skill. For example:

  • Develop author’s voice by asking students to rewrite a simple sentence using a particular literary device and/or the voice of a character from the text. For example, display the sentence, ‘I thought about it and decided I wouldn’t go’.  Ask students to rewrite the sentence using Candice’s voice or first-person diction and to include a simile. Students could also develop the context of the sentence and explain the where and the why. 
  • Write a personal narrative using literary devices and the style of a selected author/s.  Remind students of Miss Bamford’s advice: 

‘In a recount it is perfectly acceptable to play around with the truth a little. Sometimes the truth is too plain to entertain a reader, and your job in this assignment is to entertain.’ My Life as an Alphabet, (p. 3)

  • Write from the point of view of a character in a familiar story, maintain the style and tone of the author, using the RAFT framework.  

R – Role- who is writing

A – Audience- who are you writing to

F – Form- what form are you writing in,  letter report card,  dialogue, newspaper report

T – Topic- what is the writing about

  • Develop a short piece of dialogue.

Ask students to work in pairs or small groups to select short passages that include dialogue from My Life as an Alphabet, or alternative texts. Explain that each group will present an oral reading of the selected passage, with members taking the role of a character from the text. Remind students that Candice will also be the narrator if reading from My Life as an Alphabet, however, a student may need to take the role of narrator if the text was written in third person. 

Model reading a passage with a student to demonstrate taking on the role of the character. 

Invite groups to present their reading performances to the class, then encourage students to discuss the role of dialogue in fictional texts. 

The discussion may include the following points:

  • Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people, however, it there are too many people the reader loses track of what is happening.
  • Dialogue is often found in fiction or narrative texts.
  • Dialogue adds interest for the reader. It allows the reader to learn more about a character’s personality and their relationship with other characters.
  • Dialogue shouldn’t be boring for the reader. It should highlight important ideas or themes in the text.
  • Dialogue should include interesting, emotional and dramatic words.

Brainstorm incidents from the text that could be the subject of discussion between two familiar characters. For example, if using My Life as an Alphabet, Douglas and Candice could discuss what happened after Candice jumped off the pier (pp. 127 – 137), or they could talk about Douglas’s jump from the tree (pp. 247 – 250). 

Support students to use oral language activities to develop their ideas. For example, invite students to have a ‘hot seat’ discussion, with one class member assuming the role of a central character while other students ask them questions about their thoughts and actions. 

Students could also create a scenario between two characters from a fictional text of their choice.

Explain to students that they are to write dialogue of at least eight lines. Encourage them to ‘talk’ the dialogue first before they record it in writing.

Have students read or record their work to share with the class. 

Enable students using shared writing activities. Provide an example of boring dialogue and work with students to improve it with explanation and description. Demonstrate how to use expressive vocabulary and inference to make the writing more interesting. Challenge students to include idiomatic expressions (Click 'I' in the list to open the accordion for the definition) in their writing to develop characterisation. Provide examples of Australian and international idioms. 

Enable students to complete the writing tasks by providing opportunities to work collaboratively with their peers, providing explicit instruction during modelled, guided writing workshop sessions. 

Extend students by asking them to develop a short text on the same topic or theme, using two different writing styles and tones.  For example, they could write the same content in first and third person.

Ask students to select one of their writing samples to further develop and revise. Support students to work in collaborative pairs or small groups, reading their creative responses to each other and receiving feedback. The listener identifies sentences and passages that create a strong image or reaction, and passages that they might find confusing or do not fully understand. Students might repeat the process with a few peers, or the feedback sessions could be conducted in small groups. 

Model using the Warm/Cool/Hard feedback protocol.  You may choose to develop an assessment rubric with students to support the peer feedback.

Guide and support students to revise their writing to take account of the peer feedback. 

After editing and revising, students present their stories to a larger audience. Encourage students to deliver their presentation using readers’ theatre techniques, using voice, facial expressions and gestures to convey the meaning of their writing. 

Enable students to present their writing using dramatic techniques. Encourage collaboration and provide feedback and guidance during the development and practice or the presentation.

Extend student presentation techniques with the option of using video to develop a short dramatic theme and establishing context with music and/or backgrounds.

Australian National University, 2017. Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Finlayson, J., 2015. Bored Panda: 10 Unusual Idioms From Around the World. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Fords Theatre, n.d. Warm and Cool Feedback. [Online] 
Available at: 
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Jonsberg, B., 2013. My Life as an Alphabet. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin.

National Council of Teachers of English, n.d. Readwritethink: Using the RAFT Writing Strategy. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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